This biographical sketch primarily adapted from
(some additions [in brackets] and tenses changed) from the LDS Biographical
Encyclopedia, edited by Andrew Jenson, Volume 3, page 791.
John Wells, second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric
of the Church, was born Sept. 16, 1864, in Carlton, Nottinghamshire, England,
the son of Thomas Potter Wells and Sarah Cook.
He was reared in Nottingham and there he became a
companion and playmate of Elder Arthur W. Winter, who was instrumental
in his conversion to the gospel. In August, 1882, he was baptized at Nottingham,
England, and subsequently ordained to the Lesser Priesthood, commencing
his active duties in the Church within a few days after his baptism. In
1885 he was appointed president of the Nottingham branch, in which calling
he labored diligently until his emigration to Zion.
He left England with his wife, Almena Thorpe (whom
he married in 1886), and a babe, arriving in Salt Lake City July 11, 1889.
Shortly after his arrival in Utah he obtained work in the Z. C. M. I. shoe
factory, and later in the wrapping desk of that institution.
On Feb. 1st, 1890, he entered the office of the Presiding
Bishopric as a general office helper, under the direction of Robert S.
Campbell, then the chief clerk of that office. When Brother Campbell resigned
this position, in the spring of 1898, John Wells was given charge as chief
After that time many changes took place in the method of handling
and accounting for the tithes. The old system of central tithing offices,
with a Bishop's agent in each of the leading Stakes of the Church was discontinued
and the duty of receiving, handling and accounting for the tithes was transferred
to the Bishops of the Wards, supervised and directed by the Presiding Bishopric.
New methods of handling the tithes were inaugurated, and the tithing system
practically placed on a cash basis. New systems of Ward, Stake and Mission
books and records were put into operation. These systematic and progressive
measures were gradually developed and placed in operation in the Stakes,
Ward and Missions. In all this rearranging of systems, Elder Wells was
the leading spirit.
For several years Elder Wells presided over the First
Quorum of Elders in the Ensign Stake of Zion, and took an active part in
the work of the 18th Ward. For ten years he was connected with Dr. W. H.
Groves' Latter-day Saints Hospital, supervising its construction from the
first stone which was laid June 28, 1903, until the building was opened
Jan. 5, 1905. Thereafter he acted as superintendent of the hospital until
August, 1913, when his many other duties became too heavy to continue the
supervision of the hospital.
In 1913 he was ordained a High Priest. In 1914 he
became a member of the High Council of the Ensign Stake of Zion. On November
17, 1916, he was chosen as second counselor to President Richard W. Young
of the Ensign Stake and set apart to that office under the hands of President
W. Penrose, in which position he acted until July 18, 1918, when he
was ordained a Bishop by President Joseph F. Smith
and set apart as second counselor to Presiding Bishop Charles
[When, in 1925, Bishop Sylvester Q. Cannon was called
as Presiding Bishop, he called Bishop Wells to continue as Second Counselor
in the Presiding Bishopric. Bishop Wells continued to serve under Bishop
Cannon until the Presiding Bishopric was reorganized on April 6, 1938.]
Bishop Wells was a faithful member of the Church
from the time he joined it, a worker of almost unequaled energy and persistence,
reliable, trustworthy and faithful to all the responsibilities his brethren
imposed upon him. Bishop Wells was also a member of the committee on courses
of study for the Priesthood. He was the father of seven children by his
wife, Almena Thorpe, namely, Mabel Thorpe, Bertha Thorpe, Florence Thorpe,
Arthur Thorpe Clarice Thorpe, John Thorpe and Lewis Thorpe.
President David O. McKay and President Harold B. Lee used to relate an incident from the life of Bishop John Wells that is instructive to all of us. Bishop Wells was a great detail man and was responsible for many Church reports.
A son of Bishop and Sister Wells was killed in a railroad accident on October 15, 1915. He was run over by a freight car. Sister Wells could not be consoled. She received no comfort during the funeral and continued her mourning after her son was laid to rest. Bishop Wells feared for her health, as she was in a state of deep anguish.
One day, soon after the funeral, Sister Wells was lying on her bed in a state of mourning. The son appeared to her and said, “Mother, do not mourn, do not cry. I am all right.”
He then related to her how the accident took place. Apparently there had been some question—even suspicion—about the accident because the young man was an experienced railroad man. But he told his mother that it was clearly an accident.
Now note this: He also told her that as soon as he realized that he was in another sphere, he had tried to reach his father but could not. His father was so busy with the details of his office and work that he could not respond to the promptings. Therefore, the son had come to his mother.
He then said, “Tell Father that all is well with me, and I want you not to mourn any more.” (See David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, Salt Lake City: Improvement Era, 1953, pp. 525–26.)
Bishop Wells died April 18, 1941 in Salt Lake City,
Bishop Wells' widow, Margaret Ann Newman Wells, followed him in death in 1983.